Playing With Fire

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THIEF

Everything was dark. Lifeless, without colour, sound, or even feeling. Then a light appeared. It grew, and grew, until it filled every space. Nothing. It was nothing, but it seemed so calm. So warm and inviting. Like it would be so easy to just... let go. To give in and release everything. To fall into it.

Then the pain came.

It shot up and down my legs and arms, setting every muscle blazing. A flame bubbled under my skin and surged though my body. Heat radiated off my hands. They were on fire. I threw them around wildly in the darkness, desperately trying to ease the pain.

Suddenly, something cold grasped my wrists and pinned them down, pressing them into a soft surface. But that didn't stop the burning. My body convulsed, shook and contracted as the fire in my hands spread up my arms. Something weighed down on my chest, constricting me. Someone was holding me down. Why weren't they putting the fire out? Didn't they see it flaming up along my arms?

My eyes snapped open, and a scream ripped from my throat, burning my mouth and stinging my eyes. Everything was white. I could feel my head resting on something soft, a pillow. The heat in my head was so intense, I was sure the pillow wouldn't last. I screamed again, and again, but the pain wouldn't go away. Whoever was restricting me didn't move, and I didn't have the will to look and see who it was.

After what felt like hours of agony, my eyes slipped shut in pure exhaustion, and the pain disappeared.

When my eyes flickered open again, the pain was still there, but not as bad, and I didn't have the strength to scream anymore. But I moved my fingers, my legs, my arms. Then I gasped for air, and jolted.

"Shush, it's okay. I know it hurts."

Whoever the voice belonged to was close, and they were also wrong. It wasn't the pain making me jerk anymore. I was too numb. I was trying to sit up.

"Don't worry," the voice went on in a soothing tone. "You're safe. Everything's going to be okay."

The person -a woman- moved into my line of vision, hanging over me. She had short blonde hair, and dark eyes that looked too small for her round face. Her nose was slightly crooked, and her forehead was crinkled in what I guessed was concern.

"Is she okay?" A new voice asked, sliding next to the woman. The new voice was an older man, in his forties maybe. His face was better proportioned than the woman's, and he had dark brown hair, and bright blue eyes that lead to a hooked nose. He hovered above me and reached toward my face. His long fingers looked like a cage. I panicked. My muscles shot back, and I jerked away from his touch, a whimper escaping my dry lips.

"What's wrong?" he asked, looking panicked, but I didn't pay attention. My heart was pounding and my ears ringing so loudly I could barely hear them anyway.

"I think you should step outside, Sr." the woman said, watching him. "Just for a while."

"But..."

"Sarah's right." Another new voice. I managed to turn my head enough to see the newcomer as he closed the door behind him. The door was wooden, and I suddenly noticed the plastic smell. Hospital, I suddenly realized. I was in a hospital. The new man was a doctor. He wore a white coat, and carried a clipboard. "You should step out," the doctor repeated, looking directly at the man. I watched as the man's shoulders sagged, and he slowly turned, glancing back at me before opening the door. "We'll let you know when it's a good time for you to come back," the doctor said.

The man nodded. "I love you," he murmured. He waited, hesitating as if waiting for someone to say it back. Who was he talking to? I knew it wasn't me, because I didn't know him. After a moment, he closed the door.

"Okay," the doctor came around the bed and stood by my side. I was glad he didn't reach for me. What if I jerked away again? I didn't want to hurt his feelings. "How are you feeling?"

I opened my mouth, willing something to come out. But what should I say? I couldn't tell him I was in pain, and that everything hurt. What would he think then? That I was useless? "I'm fine," I rasped. The words scraped my throat and I flinched.

"I'm Dr. Wilson," he said. "And this is Sarah," he motioned toward the woman who was pouring a glass of water. "We're here to help. It's okay to talk. You're safe here."

I didn't feel safe. "Why am I here?" I asked instead.

Dr. Wilson pulled up a chair and sat near my head. "You were in an accident," he said. "I'm surprised you didn't paralyze or kill yourself. You're very lucky to be alive," he smiled.

I didn't feel lucky. "How long have I been here?"

"Almost two weeks."

My throat tightened and I swallowed hard. "Two weeks?" I whispered. Then in a smaller voice, I added, "What's wrong with me?"

His smile vanished. "You've been asleep. I know this is confusing, but everything is going to be okay."

I was silent for a while. "Who was that man?" I asked.

"Oh dear..." Sarah exchanged a look with the doctor. I shifted my head in her direction. "That man was... oh Ellamae."

My eyebrows knitted together and I turned my face back toward the doctor. "Who's Ellamae?"

His eyes seemed to droop. "You. You are Ellamae."

Now I was really confused. "No, I'm not. I'm..." Nothing. No name was there to fill the blank. Who was I?

"I'm afraid you've lost your memory, Ellamae," Dr. Wilson murmured.

"Don't call me that," I whispered, horrified. What did he mean? "I don't understand," I argued. My words should have been stronger, but I was so weak, they weren't powerful at all. "I know you're a doctor. I know this is a hospital. I know I'm in a bed. Why don't I know..."

"Who you are?" the doctor finished for me. I nodded, because there was nothing else to say. He glanced down at his clipboard. "The mind is a strange thing," he said. "It stores memory in different ways. There's semantic memory, which tells you the names of things. Such as dogs, cups, bowls and rings. Facts, essentially. Then there's procedural memory, which is how your body remembers to do things such as walking, breathing, and playing an instrument. Then there's episodic memory, which the brain stores things in an entirely different way. That part of your memory is how you know yourself. What you love, the things you've done, everyone you know, your favorite things, your fears, and your passions. It's essentially what makes you, you." He paused. "That's the part you've lost."

I was speechless. What had happened to me?

"And that man," Dr. Wilson pointed toward the door, "Is your father. Terrance Kendrick."

My father? "Where is my mother?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he stood up. "You're free to go as soon as your strength is back," he half smiled.

"No!" I looked around wildly. "You have to fix me!" I couldn't leave. I didn't know that man. How could I trust him? "You can't leave me."

He turned a grave look on me. "Things will get better if you go with your father," he said. "You need to be with your family. Being around things you knew..."

He paused and I waited for him to finish.

"There's a possibility it'll jog your memory. It might help you remember your past," he murmured.

"What if it doesn't?" I breathed.

Dr. Wilson looked away. "Then you'll just have to give yourself a new start, Ellamae."

"Please, don't call me that." I couldn't help it. It didn't feel like a name that belonged to me. It was a name that belonged someone who had a life. To a girl whose father was outside. My father, I tried to remind myself. But it didn't fit, because I didn't remember him. I didn't know him. And I didn't know the name Ellamae. I didn't know any name at all. I was just... me. Nobody.

"Then what should I call you?" Dr. Wilson asked, looking tired.

I shook my head. "I don't know," I whispered.

Over the next two days, I didn't move. Today, I knew Dr. Wilson would send me away. Send me... home. Wherever that was. Terrance Kendrick, Ellamae's father -no, my father- continued to stop by to check on me. Each time I pretend to be asleep. What would I say to him? He would sit by my bed for hours in the evening, then leave for night. It was hard to stay fake sleeping that long. But each time I heard him come, I wondered where his wife was. Why didn't she come, too? Didn't she care about Ellam- me?

I turned my head and stared at the white wall. What did she look like? My mother. Did Ellamae look like her? Did I look like her? I pushed my arms under myself and lifted my body. Swinging my legs off the bed, I stood, using the plastic smelling mattress for support. The mirror was across the room, facing the door, and I hesitated. What would I look like? Would I have blonde hair, or red, or dark? Would my eyes be blue like Terrance's? Would I like how I looked? Or was my body destroyed and mangled in the accident?

Pulling in a deep breath, I used the wall to approach the mirror. When I reached it, I just stared at the girl trapped behind the glass. She was beautiful. Her hair was a deeply dark brown. It sat in light waves that curled into large loops at the ends, settling mid shoulder blade. Her skin was pale against the dark hair, and her cheekbones were set perfectly on her face, accenting her flawless pink lips. I stared at her eyes for a long time. They were beautiful. Big and perfectly spaced. They were a bright topaz gold, and they stood out radiantly over all her striking features. Long, dark lashes lined them, stretching faultlessly out until they nearly brushed the skin just below her eyebrows. She was stunning.

I blinked... and so did she. Studying her, I opened my mouth slightly, and she copied me. Slowly, I reached my had up and brushed my face. She did the same. That's me, a voice whispered in my head. But... that couldn't be me. The beautiful girl staring back at me wasn't realistic. How can someone look so... perfect? Yet, she followed my every move flawlessly, keeping in perfect time with me. I watched the girl, and thought about smiling. Dr. Wilson had done it many times for me. I thought about the way I should do it, but why? What reason did I have to smile? As I thought, she stared at me, her lips as still as my own.

Staring, I blinked again, and again, watching as she did the same. It wasn't right. This perfect face belonged to Ellamae. The girl with a father who cared about her, the girl who had a home, a family, something to live for. I had nothing. I was just some person, stealing and living in her body, commanding it without memory of what it should be able to do. I stole from Ellamae.

I wasn't nobody. I was a thief. A thief that should have never survived that accident... How did I survive, without a broken bone? A better question was: why?


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